Since my last post on Climate Change, I’ve been thinking about some things I can do. It so happened that I was planning a community arts-science event and I wanted it to have a low carbon footprint. Then I had the idea for the Power Parties movement i.e. parties that save power to save the planet. The idea revolves around invitations that encourage guests to turn down power when they leave home, but also it’s about sharing ideas for low-power events and creative gatherings that raise awareness of power use and climate change. See
http://powerparties.wordpress.com/ for more. This Power Parties blog can have up to 35 editors so tell me what you’d like to post about and I can invite you.
Researching for my post on Climate Change and cultural education I sent a request for information to the few hundred members of GEM (the Group for Education in Museums).
I was sent a few weblinks, which I share below. I was struck that only one reply was directly relevant, in the sense of being about what cultural collection organisations are doing.
Paul Conneally urges you, for a better world, to play golf on the moon (or in Mile End) as golf courses are environmentally unsound http://skinafterskin.blogspot.com:80/2007/02/for-better-world-play-golf-on-moon.html
Rinku Mitra is working on a climate change project for the Royal Geographical Society. This is a schools website and exhibition, funded by Defra’s climate change fund. They’ve funded a number of projects around the country, some of which are cultural organisations, see www.climatechallenge.gov.uk
Sara Heitlinger reminded me of the walking audiotour of London, about oil, http://andwhilelondonburns.com and that her own audiotour of Sydenham Woods last year dealt with these themes too http://www.theprivatecollection.org.uk/news/echowoods.html
(And incidentally Sara also mentioned a fantastic sounding project she’s recently delivered with artist Franc Purg in the Ukraine, documenting and exploring the creativity of street children, currently showing at the Triennale in Lubljana.)
Sarah Scaife drew my attention to the Transition Culture movement, which is well under way in Totnes. The whole town is motivated in different subgroups to move Totnes to a future without oil. Subgroups include the arts and education.
And Ian Haynes of Cimex told me about www.bigpicture.tv that will be relaunched this week. This has film clips and more of all the key thinkers on sustainability and other big issues.
I came across the Ashden Directory, connecting environmentalism and the performing arts (why not the visual, digital, literary etc?) http://www.ashdendirectory.org.uk/default.asp
I wonder how many people, like me, had less sleep than usual after reading this stark report on global warning. http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2005116,00.html
Climate change is like a fire rapaciously burning up the ability of our planet to sustain diversity of life, but it’s a strangely invisible kind of fire we can’t quite feel or believe. Our politicians continue to put climate change in one policy box without seeing its implications in everything. Religious leaders, who should be looking to the big picture, waste breath on whether gay people should be allowed to form stable relationships. Leaders in the cultural sector are absorbed either by the pressures of target-setting bureacracy mixed with funding cuts, or by grand projects, mostly on land at risk of flooding.
The question keeping me awake was ‘what value is my work in this situation?’ It’s a version of the familiar question – ‘does culture make any difference?’ but there’s an urgent edge to this old chestnut now. Emissions have to be cut within 10 years and even so, warming levels would be dangerous. We can’t put this down to a problem for our children to solve. But education through cultural engagement is what I do. Is it going to help?
In previous jobs I’ve raised the climate change crisis in meetings on all kinds of topics from conservation and new buildings, to delivering the National Curriculum and the role of the creative educationalist. The reactions are usually ‘too pessimistic’, ‘just your personal opinion’, ‘irrelevant’ and ‘nothing we can do’. I’ve found that environmental issues have a yawnsome status in the cultural sector, as my experience is mostly outside of science museums.
But there is increasing momentum on this topic in schools, as it is the DfES Year of Action, leading a movement towards Sustainable Schools.
This provides a welcome antidote to the well-meaning rhetoric of Every Child Matters. (If children matter why we are too busy writing risk assessments to see the risks we are taking for our children’s future?) This website does usefully point out where sustainable development can be covered in the existing curriculum, indicating that they’re not thinking of adding another subject.
However, after a thorough web search, there does seem to be a need for more cultural and cross-curricular teaching resources that go beyond the familiar recycling and ‘nature art’ projects. Most online resources are very factual essays jazzed up with games or maps. The National Curriculum is not set up to enable teachers to make connections between biology, geography and socio-cultural studies so pathfinder projects are needed.
One exception, and a good example of ‘creative research’, is Cape Farewell. http://www.capefarewell.com/education.htm
The website acknowledges that “In formal education in the UK there is considerable frustration on the part of concerned teachers and students that the space for learning and talking about climate change is limited within the current curriculum.” Cape Farewell has run a Creative Partnerships project in West London recently:
“Dancing On Thin Ice, is a dance, music and media project funded by Creative Partnerships in which Cape Farewell Dance artist, choreographer and science teacher Subathra Subramaniam works with students from Villiers High School in Southall to create a dance around the theme of climate change. Making the dance, students have sessions with climate change scientist Prof Mark Maslin, and interpret what they learn into a dance piece using elements of South Indian and contemporary dance styles. Students also make music with composer John Browne and compose images and create a documentary record with media director Colin Izod.”
This is a big topic and I can’t do it justice, but I will come back to it. In researching for this, I was also looking for a network or an e-news group about environmental education in museums and/or through culture. If anyone knows of anything, please send a comment.
My heart was in my mouth when I read “All public exhibitions would close, along with schools learning programmes. ” in this cutting about the British Library:
A minute later I realised the Library was holding up all its most popular services and all those things the DCMS hold most dear, as hostages to fortune and to provoke an outcry. They wouldn’t have a great case to keep hold of 7% funds if they pledged to turn down the heating and cut taxi bills. There have been a few statements of support. For example, Joan Bakewell focuses on the value of the British Library in the search for ‘demonstrable truths about the world’.
And there is some debate on the blogs: For example, the Guardian books blog http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/01/can_we_afford_cuts_to_the_brit.html which, apart from my own post, is mainly about researchers. The only comment about public programmes comes on Susan Hill’s blog http://blog.susan-hill.com/
“Public exhibitions to close – not the worst idea. There are plenty of exhibition spaces in London…But it would be a grave error to cancel the schools learning programmes and extremely short-sighted.”
However, a schools learning programme without exhibitions and treasures galleries would be a very thin thing indeed, with only digital images to inspire learning. Web resources do provide valuable broader access to collections but there is little substitute for a real experience of a well designed workshop in a well-designed exhibition with hundreds of amazing real old things. The Library displays sacred and ancient books and other artefacts from most of the world’s cultures. Moreover, a public cultural body of the BL’s magnitude should run learning programmes on the ‘Inspiring Learning for All’ principles, with provision not just for schools but for all levels and needs.
Having put a great deal of passion into building the learning programme, and a lot of work into its exhibitions, I want to urge people to support it. Please post on blogs and, if you’re a teacher, ring to book a visit (and do be nice to the staff). There is no other UK organisation that can possibly run a public learning programme like it, with such rich potential to explore cultural knowledge, in all recorded forms, over three millennia.